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Last year's EHD - the aftermath

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outdoors Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By ROGER WILTZ

The Daily Republic 

Last summer, there were places in our Charles Mix County where a pungent but agonizingly sweet odor, capable of inducing nausea, permeated the air. Stock pond banks were strewn with the putrid, decomposing carcasses of deer, and the scent of such locales could be detected from a mile distance.

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The above description brings to mind a scene from Guthrie’s “The Big Sky,” where from 20 miles distance, a traveler could detect a rotting Indian encampment whose victims were taken by the white man’s smallpox, cholera or diphtheria. It’s an image I can’t seem to forget.

Exactly a year ago, we were in the midst of a plague. A plague that especially played havoc with the deer of southeastern South Dakota and our eastern border up to the North Dakota line. In central South Dakota, it killed a limited number of deer as far north as the North Dakota border as witnessed personally. The cause of the deadly plague was EHD or Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease.

EHD is carried by a gnat or midge, and is transmitted by its bite. EHD becomes prevalent when conditions are hot and dry. Our deer are presently enjoying a great year to rebound with cooler temperatures and sufficient moisture. Last year, I dreaded the thought of another hot and dry summer — not just for the deer’s sake, but that of our farmers, as well.

Our surviving doe have given birth to mostly twins as is God’s way after an epidemic sweeps the land. But it will be three more years before this summer’s fawns wear headgear worthy of a discerning hunter. In the meantime, our South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department will carry on in its usual fashion with some exceptions. Whether or not to kill a young buck will be up to the discretion of the hunter and/or landowner, for licenses will be issued.

In looking over our 2013 South Dakota deer hunt applications, it appears that those counties hardest hit by EHD, but not to exclude other factors, include Bon Homme, Brookings, Charles Mix, Clay, Codington, Deuel, Douglas, Grant, Hamlin, Hutchinson, Lake, Lincoln, McCook, Minnehaha, Moody, Roberts, Turner, Union and Yankton.

I wish to make it clear that this list of counties is speculation on my part. The list comes directly from this year’s South Dakota muzzleloader deer application. Our South Dakota muzzleloader deer season is a great recreational tool. However, I have always viewed it as an additional culling device for an overpopulation of deer. With minor exceptions, our the GF&P has put the screws to antlerless muzzleloader deer hunting in these counties for 2013, and I interpret it to mean that deer numbers are already down in these counties. Before you hunt with a muzzleloader, read the regulations.

License numbers wise, the regular rifle deer season is more or less as it has been in the past — even with deer numbers down. In fact, an additional “antlerless” tag still accompanies the “any deer” tag in most units. In recent years, my East River rifle deer hunting has taken place in Brule County. Though these deer were seriously hurt by EHD, Brule County is not protected by a ban on antlerless deer muzzleloader hunting. The same is true of most counties. Our deadline for East River rifle deer licenses is Friday. I’ll ask one thing of you. Give the does a break this fall.

In looking at conservation measures, what was said of good conditions this spring and summer for deer can also be said for our depleted pheasants. They are beginning to come back as a few broods are being sighted.

I suspect that more than a few landowners and hunters are thinking in terms of giving our rebounding pheasants a break. In other words, “We won’t hunt them this coming season.”

While the idea is noble and unselfish, it won’t work. In fact, it will damage the overall pheasant population. Here’s why.

Pheasant production and breeding success is best when the rooster to hen ratio is 10 or more hens to one rooster. When there is a higher percentage of roosters, the roosters spend more time fighting one another than they do breeding. It’s as simple as that. We couldn’t over-hunt rooster pheasants even if we ran the season into March. We can make them smarter by hunting them.

There are some coming openers that we can mark on our calendars. Sunday marks the dove season while Sept. 21 is the grouse/prairie chicken opener.

I’ll see you next week with some talk about our mountain lions.

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